Artiphon’s delightful Orba handheld synthesizer gets a sequel

I would love to see more companies like Artiphon in the world. Hardware startups with clever ideas and a knack for bringing them to market. Back in November 2020, I spent a good bit of time with the company’s handheld synth/sampler/instrument. It didn’t turn me into Wendy Carlos, but it helped pass a few dark pandemic hours by firing up some music-making neurons.

The device’s strength lies in its extraordinarily low barrier of entry. No lessons or musical aptitude are required — just a free hand or two and the desire to noodle around with sound. Today the device is getting a sequel, in the form of the fittingly named Orba 2. The product looks identical to its predecessor, with a round base and eight touch-sensitive pads arranged in triangles like pizza slices.

Image Credits: Artiphon

The device largely functions the same as the Orba 1, as well, but features a revamped sound engine with new built-in audio samples. Those are augmented by built-in sensors, which let you modify the sound through talking, shaking and spinning the device. There are nine gestures in all. Users also can sample and loop directly on the device or with the connected Orba app.

“We want people to express themselves musically in their everyday lives,” CEO Mike Butera says in a release. “We’ve dreamed of allowing anyone to play any sound they can imagine, anywhere they go, without worrying about historical instrument skills or abstract music theory. Orba 2 finally makes that possible.”

All told, the sampler can record up to five minutes/128 bars on device, coupled with a new feature that helps snap playing to a beat. Clearly the end game is making the system as dummy proof as humanly possible. Though, for more advanced users, it also doubles as a MIDI controller (via USB-C or Bluetooth) for apps including GarageBand, Ableton Live, Logic Pro and Pro Tools.

Artiphon’s Orba handheld synthesizer. Image Credits: Artiphon /

The Orba 2 runs $150 — notably a $50 premium over its very accessible predecessor. Artiphon has also added a number of new features since the release of the first Orba, including the ability to utilize the device as a video editor.

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DeLorean reveals Alpha 5, a performance EV with Back to the Future vibes

DeLorean released fresh details and images of its Alpha 5 EV, a gull-winged electric vehicle that the company’s owners hope will resurrect the long defunct brand and possibly set the direction for more electric models.

The company’s — and the EV’s — big public moment won’t come until later this summer at the Monterey Car Week. But the brand’s owners, anxious to capitalize on interest in EVs and perhaps spur a little momentum ahead of the event, released images and specs that reveal the Alpha 5 retains the gull-winged, two-door frame featured in the Back to the Future trilogy but features a curvier, sleeker silhouette and room for four passengers.

So far, the company’s intentions for reviving the DeLorean brand after a long hiatus – as well as how and where it will fund and built the Alpha 5 – are not clear. DeLorean CEO and former Karma Automotive executive Joost de Vries, who joined the company in December, is scheduled to speak Friday at the Electrify Expo EV festival in Long Beach, California. The expectation is that de Vries will share more information about company’s wider ambitions for electrification.

DeLorean said Tuesday that the Alpha 5 sports car will post figures typical for a performance EV, zipping from 0 to 60 mph in just under three seconds on its way to a top speed of 155 mph. The company estimates that the car’s 100kWh battery will be able to travel more than 300 miles on a full charge.

The original DeLorean Motor Company, maker of the time-traveling DMC-12 that starred in the 1980s Back to the Future trilogy, was founded in Detroit in 1975 by John DeLorean, the Pontiac designer behind the GTO and Firebird. It went defunct seven years later.

The revived DeLorean Motor Company that designed the Alpha 5 is owned by a Texas-based DeLorean restorer that bought rights to the brand in 1995 and appears to be focused on electric models.

The EV was designed by Italdesign, which also helped shape the original DMC-12 four decades ago. Looking at the released images, the Alpha 5 retains the gull-winged, two-door frame from the movie but features a curvier, sleeker silhouette. It also gains two seats, a pair of infotainment screens, and a frunk but loses the flux capacitor.

The car will rely upon a mix of “artificial support” and human control, according to the company’s website. This seems to suggest there will be some kind of advanced driver assistance system, but it’s unclear what the specific features will be.

DeLorean has not released details on its price, launch or production run. It will premiere at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach, Calif., on August 18.

The company did not immediately respond for comment Tuesday.

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Felt’s $15 million chance to prove that maps are the next big medium

Despite economic turmoil in the tech world, an Oakland-based startup shows that moonshots are still getting funded. Felt, co-founded by Sam Hashemi and Can Duruk, wants to disrupt the role of maps in society, and rethink how we think about the medium. The startup allows users to build a map with data sets integrated into it, and work with each other to showcase impact in a less static way than your average Google maps query.

Despite a massive mission – proving that maps are a forgotten yet fundamental medium worth renovating – the co-founders cited proven business models from Figma and Notion, both valued in the billions, as reason to believe in their work. The aforementioned companies both succeeded in rolling out to users for personal use then pivoting to the enterprise, a playbook that Felt wants to follow (and that VCs can certainly speak the language of).

“That kind of business model and go to market is – I don’t want to say immune, but is a little bit removed from the kind of market fluctuations we’re seeing,” Hashemi said. “It’s really not about consumer, spending, it’s not about an advertising business, it’s just day in day out work that businesses are relying on.”

The argument worked. Today, the collaborative software startup tells TechCrunch that it recently closed a $15 million Series A led by Footwork with participation from Bain Capital Ventures, Moxxie Ventures and Designer Fund.

Since its seed round, a $4.5 million investment announced in August 2021, Felt has grown its team from 7 people to 15 people across Hawaii, California, Missouri, Vermont, Canada, and Spain. One of Felt’s team members – Mamata Akella – is even an in-house cartographer – a job title you don’t too often see as part of the early-stage startup ranks.

The funding, and team growth, means that Felt thinks it is ready for the next phase of growth: feedback. The startup launched its platform publicly today after weeks of private beta testing with over 1,000 people. The public beta combines 50 layers of data, such as earthquake history or wildfire data, with a clean interface meant to empower people to draw their own maps. That in and of itself as a feat, the co-founders say, given that data is often fragmented, inaccurate or just straight up badly formatted.

Image Credits: Felt

Felt is meant to be a continuation of the collaborative software movement underscored by everyday tools like Google Docs and top companies like Notion and Figma, as well as a sequel to Hashemi’s previous company, Remix. Bought by Via for $100 million, Remix is a city transportation planning startup born out of Code for America Hackathon. Felt was the follow-up story, this time taking mapping beyond cities. From August to now, the co-founders say that Felt went from a tech demo to a product with more “commercial legs” including richer, fact checked data sets, less bugs, and hopefully, a faster load time.

Felt launched with a climate-focused angle, yet …read more

Netflix’s password-sharing test in Peru is confusing subscribers, report suggests

It’s been a bumpy ride for Netflix recently, and the announcement that it will be charging for password sharing hasn’t gone as smoothly as they might have hoped, a new report claims. Subscribers in Peru who were opted in to new password-sharing restrictions have reported confusion over Netflix’s loose definition of “household” and noted the lack of clarity around the differing charges imposed on consumers.

Global tech news site Rest of World informally surveyed more than a dozen of Netflix users in Peru, after Netflix’s March announcement that it would be asking customers in the country — as well as in Chile and Costa Rica — to pay extra when sharing their account passwords outside their homes. Central and South America represent Netflix’s lowest revenue per user, which helps to explain the markets’ selection.

The majority of those surveyed by Rest of World in Peru said that they have still not received uniform messaging around the new charges, even though it’s been over two months after the policy was first announced. Some subscribers experienced the price increase and then canceled their Netflix accounts as a result. But others who ignored the message about the new policy were able to share their accounts across households without an extra charge, they claimed.

An anonymous Netflix customer service representative reportedly told Rest of World that if a customer called in to argue that a member of their immediate household was using the account from a different location, the rep was instructed to tell them that person could continue to use the account via a verification code without experiencing an extra charge. This basically meant those who called in for support could ignore the new policy and continue to share the subscription without repercussions. The rep said members of their team were often confused about the policy themselves.

Netflix has since confirmed that only people living in the same building are considered to be in the same household. Additionally, the company told the outlet that the rollout has been “progressive” and that subscribers across the three test markets might be paying different charges.

According to Statista, in 2021, Netflix generated approximately 3.58 billion U.S. dollars in revenue with its operations across Latin America. The figure accounts for around 13.4% of Netflix’s global revenue that year, which in total amounted to approximately $30 billion.

In Peru, two additional people using a subscriber’s account but living in another apartment, city, or country are charged 7.9 soles (about $2.99) per month each. This option is cheaper than creating new Netflix accounts, as Peruvian subscribers pay 24.90 soles (around $6.80) for a basic plan.

While Netflix has long had a policy against sharing passwords, it was never heavily enforced. In fact, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has previously said that it was a good thing.

However, after the particularly harsh Q1 2022 that saw Netflix’s first drop in overall subscribers since 2011, the streaming giant has made it clear that it will charge extra for those that split …read more

Post-acquisition, Misty Robotics pivots to education

Back in 2018, a struggling Sphero needed a change. Post-Disney IP deal, life hadn’t been easy for the Colorado robotic toy firm, so it looked to a potentially lucrative new sector: STEM education. History, as Mark Twain may or may not have ever said, rhymes. The source of the quote is uncertain, but the truth is extremely applicable in the world of startups, as Sphero spinout Misty Robotics is undergoing its own educational pivot.

Misty is one of those interesting ideas that was never able to fully find purchase. After a ouple of years looking to sell its adorable little robot platform to software and hardware developers, the company was ultimately acquired by the strangely named Swedish firm, Furhat. The two teams spoke of a “unified vision” when the news was announced in January, and this product relaunch is seemingly the first step toward achieving it.

“There was always great synergy between Furhat and Misty and with this launch you can see how that’s playing out,” Furhat co-founder and CEO Samer Al Moubayed says in a release.”We’ve updated Misty’s conversational capabilities with a focus on natural language understanding and conversational skills. We also believe that social robots need to reach a much wider sector of society, and be part of the educational system, to prepare the next generation of talent. Misty is designed especially to optimize learning and engagement, and has both an attractive and rich design, and very advanced sensors and hardware, making it unique in the market today.”

Image Credits: Furhat Robotics

The move reconfirms something we’ve known for a long time: consumer robots are hard. Even as the technology is taking off across a wide range of sectors, from fulfillment to construction to healthcare, no one’s been able to fully crack the code, outside of some robot vacuums. So Misty and Furhat are, understandably, going where the money is: specifically, education and research.

The teams cite more intuitive development tools that use Python, coupled with a drag and drop interface as a key toward opening accessibility to more educators and students. That’s coupled with a new version of the robot’s SDK. Furhat is looking to expand Misty’s presence in the U.S. and its native Sweden, while targeting researchers in healthcare, who are looking toward social robotics as a method for working with patients with conditions like Alzheimer’s and autism.

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Re-rethinking Databricks’ valuation in a more conservative startup market

Just how hard will it be for some high-flying unicorns to go public? The question gets more serious and worrisome by the week.

To understand how much the late-stage market has changed in the last few months, we’re once again pulling public market data that we will contrast against mega-unicorn Databricks’ known results. Recall that we executed this experiment in February, when the data analytics company announced that it closed 2021 with $800 million in ARR, and in April, when we took a look at the company under the harsher lights of a declining market for software revenues.

That downward trend continued, meaning that it’s time to take another pass at the exercise.

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I promise that we’re not picking on Databricks for any reason other than that it committed the well-known sin of being more transparent than is traditional during its growth phase. By that I mean it shared a host of data points during its life as a private company. For that we are thankful. Sadly, because many of its peers preferred to hide their — let’s be clear: lesser — results, we are left using Databricks as our benchmark for how much things have changed in SaaS land.

It’s never great to punish the honest for their candor, but we also can’t avoid working to understand the current market — it’s our job. So, more with Databricks data today, even if we are reaching the point of cruelty.

So let’s chat results and valuations and see just how much work Databricks might have ahead of it to go public. Keep in mind that extension rounds at prior terms are coming back into vogue (Gusto is one example of this trend among the multi-unicorns), so we could see the company collect quiet capital without a public repricing before it does list. Our eyes, of course, are peeled.

Now, let’s have some fun.

A historical tour of Databricks’ valuation multiples

Pulling from our February and April coverage, a historical rundown of Databricks’ valuation and fundraising:

  • Q3 2019: $200 million run rate, $6.2 billion valuation — 31x run-rate multiple
  • End of 2020: $425 million ARR, $28 billion valuation — 66x ARR multiple
  • August 2021: $600 million ARR, $38 billion valuation — 63x ARR multiple
  • End of 2021: $800 million+ ARR, $38 billion valuation — 47.5x ARR multiple

Knowing what we did in April about the historical growth of Databricks’ revenue, we estimated that the company was at around $1 billion in ARR at that date, so we’ll go ahead and calculate the following ratios using both $1 billion and $1.1 billion ARR numbers for the company. You can decide which you think is a fairer estimate.

Now, at $1.0 billion in ARR, Databricks is worth 38x its annual recurring revenue. At $1.1 billion, 34.5x. That’s not a huge difference, mind, so no matter how you handicap the company’s recent growth, Databricks is worth around mid-to-high 30x its current top line. The question is how …read more

Apple’s iOS 16 said to include a revamped lockscreen with widgets, updated Messages and Health apps

Ahead of Apple’s big developer conference on June 6, WWDC, new information about what’s in store for iOS 16 has come to light. According to leaks reported by Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, iOS users may expect to see new features like an upgraded lockscreen as well as updated first-party apps, including Messages and Health, updates to notifications, iPad multitasking features, and more.

The report described the software as a “fairly significant” upgrade —  which is notable given the last two updates had included sizable changes, as well. With iOS 14, for example, iPhone users gained support for home screen widgets, leading to a homescreen customization craze that still sees widget and themes apps like Brass, Themify, ScreenKit and others topping the Graphics & Design charts. Last year’s iOS 15 upgrade, meanwhile, delivered Focus Modes — a new way to control what and who is allowed to interrupt you and when.

This time around, Bloomberg says Apple will give particular attention to its lockscreen, a bit of under-utilized real estate currently which offers only the date, time, and buttons to launch the Flashlight or Camera apps.

In iOS 16, Apple aims to support wallpapers that have widget-like capabilities, the report claims. This could indicate that Apple is considering merging what’s today to the left of the homescreen — the “Today View” with its lineup of widgets — directly into the lockscreen itself. This would make sense as the Today View is meant to offer easy access to information you may need throughout the day, like upcoming calendar appointments, the weather, or widgets that can be tapped to open favorite apps. But the Today View isn’t within easy reach because you still have to swipe right to see it, and many users don’t bother to do so.

This change could be beneficial to app developers who support widgets, as it gives them another shot at grabbing users’ attention in a high-profile area. Plus, it would give the homescreen customization app developers a way to extend their offerings. That is, users could now download full theme sets with sets of widgets designed both for the lockscreen and homescreen, along with matching wallpapers and icon themes.

In addition, the updated lockscreen could be preparing for a future where the lockscreen has an always-on display, similar to Apple Watch, though this would likely be tied to updated hardware, the report said. This mode may be exclusive to high-end iPhones at launch, including the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max — if given the greenlight.

Other expected features with iOS 16 include an updated Messages app with more “social networking-like functionality,” which may include some sort of update around audio messages. (Please, Apple, allow us to play audio messages at faster speeds like on WhatsApp!)

The Health app will also be updated, but the report didn’t have further details as to what would be changed. In addition, watchOS will gain changes to watch faces and a low-power mode, while iPadOS will gain …read more

8 IT spending trends for the post-pandemic enterprise in 2022

Over the past three years, the chaos of the pandemic has been felt everywhere.

IT managers suddenly found themselves supporting legions of work-from-home employees; planned system expansions and upgrades had to be put on hold; organizations needed new technologies to accommodate changing workforce requirements.

Now with people returning to offices, IT priorities are shifting rapidly, especially given the looming recession, high inflation, and stressed supply chains. Our latest research report offers some insight into where companies are allocating their IT spend in 2022.

For our latest survey, we polled 1,200 IT leaders, representing roughly $570 billion in annual IT spending.

Every year, we poll IT decision-makers worldwide about their plans for the coming year. For our latest survey, we polled 1,200 IT leaders, representing roughly $570 billion in annual IT spending. We asked them about their technology evaluations and their spending intentions to learn what they have planned for their enterprise networks.

Here are eight of the IT spending trends we deemed most significant:

IT spend projections soften

Overall, spending in the space has slowed from previous predictions. The 2022 survey projects IT spending to rise 6.7% year-over-year (YOY), down from December, when growth was expected to be 8.7% YOY.

Our research shows that organizational plans to begin new IT projects have stalled since the start of 2022. At the same time, the need for experienced IT personnel has accelerated, and hiring demand in the space has reached the highest level we have ever seen.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that more than 667,600 IT jobs will be added between 2020 and 2030, representing a 13% growth rate. The lack of experienced professionals is an issue that enterprises of all sizes in all markets will have to deal with for some time.

IT executives are advised to place a higher emphasis on employee retention as well as continuing to recruit new talent.

SMBs are growing faster

The SMB sector is showing slightly stronger growth than large enterprises. For vendors targeting the SMB market, now is an excellent time to increase marketing spend and fortify lead generation and content marketing. Smaller accounts may yield more sales in the near term.

Energy and utilities spend more on IT

Interestingly, the energy sector, which is usually conservative in its IT spending, is showing the highest budget increase. Education shows the lowest projected IT spending. Vendors should consider shifting marketing budgets to target verticals that project higher expenditures.

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Depressed? This algorithm can tell from the tone of your voice

Mental health issues have come into a clearer focus amid the pandemic. Depression became endemic, but it still too often goes undetected. Even when it does, health care providers struggle to meet demand. Two women engineers — both of whom had experienced depression and had trouble finding therapy — thought the answer might be helping medical pros detect depression.

Kintsugi is a startup that wants to put technology to work on the problem. Co-founder and CEO Grace Chang saw this as an access issue: Both founders experienced bouts of depression and found it difficult to get clinicians to help, leading them to think about it from their perspective as engineers.

They figured that if it was possible to identify the people who need therapy the most, it would be easier to achieve the goal of directing those people to suitable treatment. So Chang and co-founder Rima Seiilova-Olson built an API to detect depression through voice.

“We saw this as an infrastructure problem where you have so many people trying to jam through that front door, but not a lot of visibility as to who is severely depressed and who is in this low to moderate phase. And if we can provide this information to those practitioners, we can really deeply affect the specific problem,” she said.

Why voice?

People who are feeling blue tend to have a flat voice, something that clinicians have observed for decades. This is true regardless of language or culture and appears to be a universal human reaction to depression, according to Seiilova-Olson.

“Psychomotor retardation is the process of slowing down of thought and muscle movements. And it’s universal no matter where you’re born or what language you speak,” she said.

Psychiatrists who observe severely depressed patients notice this symptom, Seiilova-Olson noted. Kintsugi is attempting to use technology to build a machine learning model with many more samples than any individual clinician could see in a lifetime. The solution measures the likelihood of depression on the GAD-7 (0-21) scale, with zero being fine and 21 being severely depressed. After a patient grants permission, the clinician can get immediate feedback based on the score. The score, which becomes part of the patient notes, is protected under doctor-patient privilege, according to the company.

“Our neural network model has been trained on tens of thousands of depressed voices. So it can be like a set of psychiatrists, but it’s much more sensitive. It can pick it up even when the depression is at mild or moderate levels,” she said.

Even before the pandemic, depression was rampant. The World Health Organization reports that 5% of adults worldwide suffer from clinical depression. That adds up to 280 million people. It is the leading cause of disability in the world, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

The WHO reports that all forms of depression — whether mild, moderate or severe — are treatable if detected. But too often those with depression suffer in silence and …read more

TikTok is testing a ‘clear mode’ for a distraction-free scrolling experience

TikTok is testing a new feature that would allow for a distraction-free scrolling experience on the app, the company confirmed to TechCrunch. The new feature, which is called ‘clear mode,’ is currently in limited testing with select users. Clear mode gets rid of all of the clutter on-screen, such as captions and buttons, when viewing content on the app.

The new setting was spotted by users and highlighted by social media consultant Matt Navarra on Twitter. The screenshots posted by users show that once clear mode is activated, you’ll no longer see usernames, captions, audio information and more. In some cases, it appears that you can get rid of the like, comments and share buttons as well in order to have a completely distraction-free viewing experience.

Users who are part of the limited test and have access to clear mode will see the option when they tap and hold the screen. Once you do so, the ‘Clear Mode’ setting will appear under the ‘Add to Favorites’ button in the menu. Clicking on that will trigger the distraction-free viewing experience.

If fully rolled out, the new feature could be a welcome addition for people who want to get rid of the clutter on-screen and just focus on the content that they’re viewing. Clear mode could also be useful in instances where usernames and captions end up covering important parts of a video. In addition, viewers will often comment “crop” on a video, indicating that they want the user to reupload the video so that it can be screenshot and cropped without any captions or buttons obstructing the content. Activating clear mode could get rid of this problem.

TikTok said it doesn’t have much to share on the test at this time. Considering clear mode is in limited testing, it’s unknown when or if TikTok plans to roll it out more widely.

TikTok is currently testing a number of new changes for its platform, as it was recently revealed that the company is further investing in HTML5 games. It appears TikTok is also working on a LIVE mobile gaming feature that would allow creators to better engage fans while livestreaming. TikTok has also started testing a way for users to identify comments that they think are irrelevant or inappropriate via a private dislike button. Once a user dislikes a comment, the dislike won’t be public and commenters won’t be notified that their comment has been disliked.

…read more